New Orleans- Ask and ye shall receive: The Vatican Mosaics Exhibit

Virgin of the Chair
Virgin of the Chair

Ask and ye shall receive: The Vatican Mosaics Exhibit
By Debi Lander

If a journey of a thousand miles begins with one step, the agreement to loan priceless artworks must include a thousand requests. But according to Monsignor Kern of New Orleans, one offhanded remark resulted in the first showing of the Vatican Mosaic Studios outside of Rome.

The Monsignor said he simply asked if Catholic heritage could be shared, while touring St. Peter's back in 2003. Cardinal Marchisano agreed and plans developed. Unfortunately, hurricane Katrina stalled the event. However, isn't it appropriate for a city rebuilding itself to now host gems literally pieced together.

But visitors must hurry if they want to catch the mosaic exhibit, on loan only until June 1st, 2007.

Michaelango founded the Vatican Studios 500 years ago, to preserve the deteriorating oil paintings of the Basilica. The artisans today continue creating works with enamel glass, stone and even shells.

The 37 pieces displayed in the old Ursuline Convent trace the evolution of the human spirit from Raphael to Rembrandt, Van Gogh to Chagall. Some works date from the 16th century while other 19th century selections feature tesserae, or micro-mosaic. The minute detail almost demands a magnifying glass.

Attendees make their way through the 45-60 minute self-tour, gleaning unobstructed views of the intricate art. At the end, a master-in-residence demonstrates her tools and techniques, plus answers questions.

An added bonus is the Ursuline Convent's painted wooden ceiling and stained glass windows, worth a visit on their own. The 1727 stucco fortress required post-Katrina renovations, but the property ranks as the only remaining building from the French Colonial period in the US. In 1794, legend recalls a catastrophic French Quarter fire that nearly consumed the city. The nuns knelt outside, praying for their hometown. Just as the fire reached them, the wind changed and the convent survived.

Seems this location has truly been blessed.

Vatican Mosaic Exhibit at Old Ursuline Convent, 1100 Chartres Street, New Orleans. Open Tuesday- Sunday from 9-5 PM through June 1, 2007. Adult tickets are $10 with the proceeds benefiting the restoration and preservation of the convent. Call 504 569- 1401 for more information.